Stop and Think!/Introduction

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Stop and Think!  (1893)  by Leo Tolstoy, translated by Nathan Haskell Dole
Introduction


THE editor of a Paris review, thinking that the opinions of two celebrated writers on the state of mind of the present day would interest me, has sent me two extracts from French newspapers, one being a speech by M. Zola, delivered at the banquet of the General Students' Association, the other a letter from M. A. Dumas to the editor of the Gaulois.

These extracts did indeed interest me profoundly, both on account of their seasonableness and the renown of their authors, and because it would be difficult to find in current literature in a more succinct, vigorous, and brilliant form, an expression of the two fundamental forces, the resultant of which impels humanity along. I mean on the one hand the force of routine which tends to keep humanity in its present course, and on the other that of reason and love which impels it toward the light.

M. Zola disapproves of that faith in something vague and ill-defined which their new guides are recommend- ing to the youth of France ; and counsels them to be- lieve in something which is neither clearer nor better defined, namely, science and work.

A little-known Chinese philosopher and founder of a religion, named Lao-Tze (the first and best translation of whose book, "The Way of Virtue," is that by Stanis- las Julien), takes as the foundation of his doctrine the "tao," a word meaning " reason," "way," "virtue." If men follow the law of "tao," they will be happy. But the "tao," according to M. Julien's translation, is only attainable by " not-acting."

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All the ills besetting mankind arise, according to Lao- Tze, not from man's neglect to do what is necessary, but because he does what is unnecessary, so that if men would practise what he calls " not-acting," they would be rid not only of their personal calamities, but also of those inherent in every form of government, the latter being the subject of which the Chinese philosopher par- ticularly treats.

Lao-Tze's idea appears strange, but it is impossible not to agree with him if one considers what are the results from the activities of the great majority of the men of our century.

Let all men apply themselves to work, says M. Zola, and work will give them health and happiness, and will free them from the torment of the Infinite. Work, yes ; but at what are we to work ? Manufacturers and sellers of opium, tobacco, and brandy, every gambler on the Stock Exchange, all inventors and manufacturers of engines of destruction, all the military, all jailers and executioners, all work, but it is evident that humanity would be the gainer if all these workers ceased their work.

But perhaps M. Zola's recommendation has reference only to such work as is inspired by science ? As a mat- ter of fact the purpose of the greater part of M. Zola's speech is to uphold science, which he thinks is being attacked. Well ! From various unappreciated authors I am continually receiving pamphlets, treatises, and printed books and manuscripts, the results of their scientific work.

One has finally decided the question of the Christian gnosiology, another has written a book on the cosmic ether, a third has solved the social question, a fourth the Eastern question, a fifth edits a Theosophical Review, a sixth (in a thick volume) solves the knight's tour problem in chess.

All these people work assiduously and in the name of science, but I have no hesitation in saying that the time and work of my correspondents have been spent in a manner not only useless but even harmful, for they have


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not been the only people whose labor has been spent on this useless work ; thousands of people have been occupied in making the paper, the type, and machines needed to print their works, and in feeding, clothing, and housing these scientific laborers.

Work for science ? But the word science is a term so vague and ill-defined that what some people consider to be science is considered by others to be utterly futile, and this is the case not only with outsiders but even with the priests of science themselves. While those savants who favor a spiritual explanation of life, look upon jurisprudence, philosophy, and even theology as the most necessary and important of sciences, the Posi- tivists consider these very sciences as childish twaddle devoid of scientific value ; and, vice versa, sociology, which the Positivists look upon as the science of sciences, is considered by the theologians, philosophers, and spiritualists as an arbitrary and useless collection of observations and assertions. But more than this, even in one and the same branch of philosophy or natural science, each system has ardent defenders and equally ardent detractors, equally competent, yet hold- ing diametrically opposite opinions.

Finally, does not each year witness fresh scientific discoveries, which, after exciting the wonder of the mediocrities of the whole world, and bringing fame and fortune to their inventors, are eventually found to be nothing but ridiculous errors even by those who pro- mulgated them ?

We all know that what the Romans looked upon as science par excellence, as the most important of occupa- tions, and one which showed how superior they were to the barbarians, was rhetoric, that is to say, an exercise which nowadays is regarded with derision, which with us does not even rank as a science. It is equally difficult for us to understand the state of mind of the learned during the Middle Ages, who were quite con- vinced that all science was centered in scholasticism.

Unless, then, our century be quite an exception, which we have no right to suppose, but little reflec-


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tion is required to convince us that, among the subjects principally engrossing the attention of our learned men to-day, there are some which will be looked upon by our descendants as we now look upon the rhetoric of the ancients and the scholasticism of the Middle Ages.


II

M. ZOLA'S speech is chiefly directed against certain leaders who are trying to direct the younger generation back to religious beliefs ; for M. Zola, as a champion of science, looks upon himself as their opponent ; but in reality such is not the case, for his reasoning is based upon the same foundation as that of his adversaries : on faith, as he himself admits.

It is a generally received opinion that religion and science are opposed to each other. And such is really the case, but only with reference to any given time. That is to say, what has been regarded by the people of one time as science very often becomes religion for their descendants. What is usually connoted by the term religion is generally the science of the past, while that which is called science is to a large extent the religion of the present.

We say that the statements of the Hebrews that the world was created in six days, that children are punished for the sins of their fathers, that certain maladies can be cured by the sight of a serpent, are the data of religion ; while we call data of science the statements of our con- temporaries that the world created itself while turning around a center which is everywhere, that all the vari- ous species arose from the struggle for existence, that criminals are the product of heredity, that there exist micro-organisms in the shape of commas which cause certain diseases. It is easy to see by reverting in imag- ination to the state of mind of an ancient Hebrew, that for him the creation of the world in six days, the wound- curing serpent, etc., served as the data of science" at its highest degree of development, just as for a man of our





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time do the laws of Darwin, the commas of Koch, hered- ity, etc.

And just as it was not exactly in the creation of the world in six days, the wound-curing serpent, etc., that the Hebrew believed, but rather in the infallibility of his priests, and hence in the truth of their assertions ; even so the great majority of the cultured people of our time believe neither in the formation of the world by rotation, nor in heredity, nor in comma-like bacilli, but in the infallibility of their lay priests who are called scientists, who affirm whatever they pretend to know, with the same assurance as did the Hebrew priests.

I will even say that if the priests of old, amenable to no control save that of their colleagues, permitted them- selves sometimes to digress from the truth merely for the pleasure of astonishing and mystifying their public, the priests of modern science have done as much, with equal effrontery.

The greater part of what is called religion is but the superstition of the past ; the greater part of what is called science is no more than the superstition of the present day. The proportion of error and of truth is, I suspect, about the same in the one as in the other. Hence to work in the name of any belief, be it religious or scientific, is not only a doubtful means of ameliorat- ing the life of mankind, but it is a dangerous proceeding which may produce more harm than good.

To consecrate one's life to the fulfilment of the duties imposed by religion, prayers, communion, almsgiving; or, following the advice of M. Zola, to devote it to some scientific work, is to run too great a risk, for one may find on the eve of one's death that the religious or scien- tific principle, in whose service one has spent one's whole life, is nothing but an absurd mistake !

Even before reading the speech in which M. Zola holds up work, whatever kind it may be, as a kind of vir- tue, I had always been astonished at the strange opinion (current especially in Western Europe) in regard to work. I always felt that it was excusable only in an irrational creature, such as the ant in the fable, to elevate work


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to the rank of a virtue and to make a boast of it M. Zola assures us that work makes men kind ; the contrary has always been true in my experience. With- out considering selfish work, which is always bad, the object of which is the well-being or aggrandizement of the worker, even " work for its own sake," the pride of the worker, renders both ants and men cruel. Which of us does not know these men, untouched by considera- tions of truth and kindliness, who are always so busy that they not only never have time to do good, but can- not even ask themselves whether their work is not harm- ful ? You say to these people : " Your work is useless, perhaps even pernicious, for the following reasons ; pause and consider them for a moment." They will not listen to you, but scornfully reply : " You men have leisure to reason about such matters, but what time have I for discussions ? I have worked all my life and work does not wait ; I have to edit a daily paper with a circu- lation of half a million ; I have the army to organize, the Eiffel Tower to build, the Chicago Exhibition to arrange, to cut through the Isthmus of Panama, to make investiga- tions on the subject of heredity, telepathy, or to find out the number of times such and such a word occurs in the works of such and such a classic author."

The most cruel of men, the Neros and the Peter the Greats, have been constantly active, never pausing or giving themselves a moment free from occupation or distraction.

Even if work is not a vice, it can from no point of view be looked upon as a merit.

Work can no more be considered a virtue than can nutrition ; work is a necessity of which one cannot be deprived without suffering, and to elevate it to the rank of a merit is as monstrous as it would be to do the like for nutrition. The only explanation of this strange value attributed to work in our society is that our ancestors regarded laziness as an attribute of nobil- ity, almost of merit, and that people of our time are still somewhat influenced by the reaction from that prejudice.


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Work, the exercise of our organs, cannot be meritori- ous, for it is simply a physical necessity of man in com- mon with all other animals, as is shown by a tethered calf galloping round and round, or, among ourselves, by the silly exercises to which rich and well-fed people of the leisured classes betake themselves, finding no better use for their mental faculties than reading novels and newspapers, or playing chess and cards, or for their muscles than gymnastics, fencing, lawn tennis, and horse-racing.

In my opinion, not only is work not a virtue, but in our defectively organized society it is more often a means of moral anaesthesia, just as are tobacco, wine, and other means of drowning thought and hiding from ourselves the disorder and emptiness of our lives ; and it is pre- cisely as such that M. Zola recommends work for young people.


Ill

THERE is a great difference between the letter of M. Dumas and the speech of M. Zola, without mentioning the external difference, namely, that the speech of M. Zola seems to court the approbation of the young men to whom it is addressed ; whilst the letter of M. Dumas does not flatter young men, does not tell them that they are important persons and that everything depends on them (a notion which they ought never to cherish if they wish to be good for anything), but, on the contrary, points out to them their habitual faults, their presumption, and their levity. The principal difference between these two articles is that the speech of M. Zola aims at keeping men in the path they are in, by making them think that what they know is precisely what is necessary for them to know, and that what they are doing is exactly what they ought to do ; whilst the letter of M. Dumas shows them that they are ignorant of the essentials of what they ought to know, and are not living as they should live.


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The more men believe that they can be moved to a better state of things without effort of their own, by some external force acting of itself, whether religion or science, and that they have only to work on in the existing order, with the more difficulty will this change be accomplished ; and it is in this, above all, that the speech of M. Zola errs.

On the contrary, the more men believe that it only depends on themselves to modify their relations toward one another, and that they can do so when they will, by loving one another instead of tearing one another to pieces as they now do, the more will such change become possible. The more men allow themselves to follow this suggestion, the more will they be drawn to realize the prediction of M. Dumas. And in this lies the great merit of M. Dumas's letter.

M. Dumas does not belong to any party or to any religion; he has as little faith in the superstitions of the past as in those of the present, and it is just for this reason that he observes, that he thinks, and that he sees, not only the present but also the future, in the same way as those who in ancient times were called seers. It may appear strange to those who, when reading an author's works, see only the contents of his book and not the soul of the author, that M. Dumas who wrote " La Dame aux Camelias " and " L' Affaire Cl^menceau" that this same Dumas sees into the future and prophesies. But, however strange it may seem, prophecy, though uttered not in the desert, nor by Jordan's banks, nor from the mouth of a hermit clothed in skins of beasts, but appearing in a daily paper on the banks of the Seine, it is none the less prophecy.

The words of M. Dumas have all the characteristics of a prophecy : first, they are entirely opposed to the general ideas of the people in the midst of whom they are uttered ; secondly, all who hear them feel their truth ; and thirdly, above all, it urges men to realize what it foretells.

M. Dumas predicts that men, after having tried


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everything, will begin seriously to apply to life the law of brotherly love, and that this change will come about sooner than one expects. The proximity of this change, even its possibility, may be disputed ; but it is evident that, if it does come about, it will solve all con- tradictions, all difficulties, and will avert all the ills which the end of our century threatens.

The only objection, or rather the only question, that can be put to M. Dumas is : If love of our neighbor is possible to, and inherent in, human nature, why have so many thousand years passed (for the command to love God and one's neighbor is not a command of Christ, but dates back to Moses) during which men have known this means of happiness and yet have not practised it ? What cause prevents the manifestation of a sentiment so natural and so beneficent to humanity?

It is evident that it is not enough to say : Love one another. That has been said for three thousand years; it has been continually repeated in all tones, from all platforms, religious and even secular, but men continue none the less to exterminate instead of love one an- other. In the present day no one can doubt that if men, instead of tearing one another to pieces, each seeking his own happiness, that of his family, or that of his country, would but help one another ; if they would replace selfishness by love, and would organize their lives on the communistic instead of the individ- ualistic principle (as the sociologists like to express it in their barbarous jargon) ; if they loved one another as each loves himself, if, at least, they did not do to others what they would not like done to them, as was said two thousand years ago, the amount gained of that personal happiness which each man seeks would be greater, and human life in general would be reasonable and happy instead of being what it is now, a succession of con- tradictions and sufferings.

No one doubts but that if men continue to take away from one another the ownership of the land and the products of their labor, a retaliation by those who have been thus robbed must be expected, and that the op-


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pressed will retake with violence and vengeance what they have been deprived of. Every one knows also that the preparations for war made by the different nations lead on to terrible massacres, to the ruin and degenera- tion of all the peoples who participate in this circle of armaments. No one doubts but that if the present order of things be prolonged for some dozens of years, the result will be ruin, imminent and general. We have only to open our eyes to see the abyss toward which we are advancing. But it seems that Christ's prophecy is fulfilled among the men of to-day ; they have ears to be deaf with, and eyes to be blind with, they have reason to misunderstand with.

The men of to-day continue to live as they have always lived, and do not leave off doing what must inevitably lead to their ruin. Moreover, the men of our Christian society acknowledge, if not the religious law of love, at least the moral obligation of the Christian principle, " not to do to others what they would not that others do to them," but they do not act upon it. Evidently some secret but overwhelming reason prevents them from doing what is to their advantage what would save them from the dangers that menace them, and what the law of their God and their conscience alike dictate to them. Are we to conclude that love applied to life is a chimera ? If so, how is it that for so many centuries men have allowed themselves to be deluded by this unrealizable dream ? It must be high time to recog- nize its futility. But mankind can neither resolve to fol- low the law of love in their lives nor to give up the idea.

Why is this ? What is the reason of this contradic- tion, enduring so many centuries ? It is not because men of our day lack either the desire or the possibility to do what is dictated to them, both by their common sense and by the danger of their position, and above all, by the law of that which they speak of as God and their con- science. But it is just because they are doing what M. Zola advises them to do : they are so busy, they are all so engrossed in work commenced long ago, and it is impossible for them to pause to collect their thoughts


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and consider what they ought to be. All great revolu- tions in the life of men commence in thought. Let but a change take place in men's thoughts, and action will follow the direction of the thought as certainly as the ship follows the direction of the rudder.


IV

IN the words of His first sermon Christ did not tell men to love one another (He taught this to His disciples later on), but, like John the Baptist before Him, He preached repentance, fjierdvoia, that is to say, a change of opinion with regard to life : ^eravoelre, change your conception of life, said He, or you will all perish. The meaning of your life cannot consist in the pursuit of your personal well-being, or in that of your family or your nation, be- cause that well-being can be attained only by detriment of that of your neighbor. Know then that the meaning of your life can lie only in fulfilling the will of Him who sent you into this life, and who demands from you, not the pursuit of your personal interests, but the accom- plishment of His own purpose : the establishment of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Meravoelre, change your conception of life, or you will all perish, said He, eighteen hundred years ago ; and, to- day, this is incessantly urged by all the contradictions and all the ills of our time, results of the fact that men have not heeded, and have not accepted the conception of life which he proposed to them. Meravoeire, said He, or you will all perish. And the alternative is still the same. The only difference is that now it is more press- ing. If, two thousand years ago, at the time of the Roman Empire, even at the time of Charles V., or even before the Revolution and the Napoleonic wars, it was possible not to see the vanity, I will even say the ab- surdity, of attempting to insure personal happiness, the welfare of the family, the nation, or the State, by strug- gling against all who seek the same thing, that illusion has now become absolutely impossible to any man who


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will pause in his work, be it only for a moment, and reflect upon what he is, upon the state of the world about him, and upon what he ought to be. If, then, I were asked for the most important advice I could give, that which I considered to be the most useful to the men of our century, I should simply say : In the name of God, stop a moment, cease your work, look around you, con- sider what you are and what you ought to be, think of the ideal.

M. Zola says that people should not aspire, or believe in a superior power, or trouble about the ideal. Per- haps M. Zola understands by the word "ideal," either the supernatural, that is to say, the theological rubbish about the Trinity, the Church, and the Pope, etc., or the unexplained, as he calls the vast forces of the universe into which we are plunged. And in this case men would do well to follow M. Zola's advice. But, in reality, the ideal is neither supernatural nor unexplained. On the contrary, it is the most natural of things ; I will not say it is the most thoroughly explained, but it appeals to the human mind w.ith more certainty than anything else.

The ideal in geometry is the perfectly straight line, and the circle the radii of which are equal ; in science, it is exact truths ; in morals, perfect virtue. Although all these things, straight line, exact truth, and perfect virtue alike, have never existed, not only are they more natural, more known, and more explicable than all our other knowl- edge ; but they are the only things we truly and certainly do know.

It is commonly said that reality is that which exists, or in other words, only that which exists is real. The contrary is, however, the case ; the true reality, that which we truly know, is that which never existed. The ideal is the only thing which we know with certainty, and it has never existed. It is only thanks to the ideal that we know anything at all, and that is why the ideal alone can guide mankind in their lives, both individually and collectively. The Christian ideal has been before us for eighteen centuries ; it shines in our time with such intensity that it is extremely difficult to avoid seeing that


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all our ills proceed from the fact that we do not accept its guidance; but the more difficult it becomes not to see this, the greater are the efforts made by some people to persuade us to do as they do, to close our eyes so as not to see it. In order to be absolutely certain to arrive safely in port, we ought, before all else, to throw over- board the compass, say they, and forge ahead. Men of our Christian society resemble people who, desiring to pull down some object which annoys them, drag at it in opposite directions, and have no time to agree as to the direction in which they ought to pull. It is only neces- sary that a man of our day should cease his activity for a moment and reflect, comparing the demands of his reason and of his heart with the actual conditions of his life, in order to perceive that his whole life and his every action are in incessant and outrageous contra- diction to his reason and his heart. If you were to inquire separately of every civilized human being what are the most moral bases of his conduct, nearly every man would tell you that they are the Christian principles, or at any rate those of justice. In saying this men are sincere. If they acted according to their conscience, men would live as Christians ; but it is only necessary to watch them to see that they live like wild beasts. So that for the great majority of men in the Christian world, the organization of their life is not the result of their way of seeing and feeling, but of certain forms which were once necessary, but which now only survive by reason of the inertia of social life.

V

IF in past times, when the evils produced by the pagan way of life were not so evident as now, and, more important still, the Christian principles were not so generally accepted, men could consciously uphold the bondage of the workers, the oppression of man by man, penal law, and, above all, war, it has become com- pletely impossible at the present time to explain the raison d'etre of all these institutions.


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In order that men should change their way of living and feeling, they must first of all change their way of thinking ; and in order that such a change should come about, men must stop and give their attention to what they ought to understand. To hear what those who wish to save them are shouting, men who run singing toward the precipice must cease their hubbub and stop short.

Let the people of our Christian society pause in their work and reflect for a moment on the state of their lives, and involuntarily they will be led to accept the conception of life given by Christianity ; a conception so natural, so simple, and answering so completely the needs of the heart and mind of humanity, that it would arise almost spontaneously in the understanding of any one willing to liberate himself, were it but for a moment, from the entanglement in which he is held by the com- plications of his own work and the work of others.

For eighteen centuries the feast has been ready ; but one man does not come because he has bought a piece of ground, another because he has married a wife, a third because he must go and try his oxen, a fourth because he is constructing a railway, a factory, doing missionary work, working in Parliament, in a bank, or at some scientific, artistic, or literary production. ' For two thousand years nobody has had the leisure to do what Jesus advised at the beginning of His ministry : to look around him, to consider the results of our work, and to ask himself : What am I ? For what ? Can it be that this force, which has produced me with my reason and my desire to love and be loved, has operated only in order to deceive me ; so that, having imagined the aim of my life to be my personal well-being, that my life belongs to me and that I have the right to dispose of it and the lives of other beings as I please, I should arrive at the conviction that this personal, family, or national well-being cannot be attained ; and that the more I strive to attain it, the more I should find myself in contradiction with my reason and the desire to love and be loved, and the more I should experience disillu- sionment and suffering ? Is it not more probable that,


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not having come into the world spontaneously, but by the will of Him who sent me, my reason and my desire to love and be loved have been given to guide me in the accomplishment of that will ?

Once that perdvoia has taken place in the thought of man, a pagan and egoistic conception of life replaced by the Christian conception, the love of one's neighbor will become more natural than strife and egoism are at present. And when once the love of one's neighbor has become natural to man, the new conditions of the Chris- tian life will come about spontaneously, just as in a liquid saturated with salt the crystals commence to form the moment one ceases to stir it.

And in order that such a result should come about and that men should organize in conformity with their conscience, no positive effort is necessary ; on the con- trary, we have only to stop in the efforts we are now making. If man only employed the hundredth part of his energy, now spent entirely contrary to his conscience in material occupations, to elucidate as much as possible the data of his conscience, to express these as clearly as possible, to make them known, and above all to practise them, the change foretold by M. Dumas and by all the prophets would be accomplished much more quickly and easily than we think, and man would acquire that good which Jesus proclaimed in His good news : " Seek the Kingdom of Heaven and all other things will be added unto you." 1

1 This essay was written by Tolstoi in 1893, first in Russian and then (after a mutilated version had appeared in France) again in French. From the latter this version is made. TR.